Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Have you heard a friend or associate complain recently about how much they hate fall.

The air is cooler, the days are shorter and everything in sight is dying. Maples and Oaks are shedding leaves in preparation for their winter sleep. Monarch butterflies are escaping south, soon to be followed by Robins and our hearty Canada Geese.

The evolution of life is death- eventually. Even for us humans it's inevitable and necessary. We watch our trees and gardens wither and prepare knowing we'll see and enjoy them come spring. Not so with our fellow humans. When a friend or family member begins the journey to the next phase of existence it's done with the knowledge that there is no return- at least not to this life as we know it. I believe we all “bloom” again, just not in this same space and body. It's a personal, privately spiritual decision that we cannot comprehend until we pass on.

When I go to a Funeral Home or just hear about the death of a friend or loved one, I automatically think of a springtime seventeen years ago, when I watched my Dad prepare the way for his passing. It wasn't the first time I had been at Death's bedside. I watched a favourite Aunt struggle with a body and mind ravaged by Cancer. Someone my Dad couldn't muster up the strength to visit during her last few weeks at Soldier's. That was okay.
Some handle it better than others and why should we be pushed and prodded into viewing something so personal as death.
Until we're ready, that is.

My Dad handled his passing well. He went through a period of hope. Then, for a short while- a time of anger. This was followed by reflection, private time and soft words to family members one by one.
Finally his preparation was complete.
Towards his last days Dad was having “nice dreams”.
He told us that.
I am sure he saw an Angel waiting and watching over him, just to the left of his bed.
I remember the “gurgling” and soft breathing as I watched Dad move through his final hours. Then a deep intake of breath followed by blissful peace.
No struggle.
Just completion of a life.
A job and life well done, well lived.
A life that I still remember- almost daily.
That's a nice feeling.
It's still comforting all these years later.

I have also had to watch family pets become ill. Of course, in these instances there is the additional agony of having to decide the exact moment of death- euthanasia. Don't for a moment think this is any easier. It's not. It is just as heartbreaking as saying goodbye to anyone. Holding a “special” family member in your arms while the barbiturates bring a gentle end, is devastating and ridden with the guilt of having made the decision. It's truly the final expression of love you can offer a four-legged member of the family.

Not everyone is able to know what it's like to experience someone's passing.

I leave you with a documentary from film-maker Allan King that will help explain. I saw it a few years ago and the images have remained with me since..

The documentary is called “Dying at Grace”. The film followed the “end of days” for five people in the Palliative Care Ward at Grace Hospital in Toronto.

Director King says he “decided to make an actuality drama that would address issues around death and dying more openly, in the hope that viewers might release their fears of dying and live life more deeply”. Families, Grace Hospital Staff and the patients themselves allowed King to intrude “angel-like” into their most private moments of life and death. Over its two and a half hour duration, the film introduces us to five patients who opened their minds, hearts and their suffering- so we may learn.

There are no happy endings here. All five of these remarkable people succumb to their terminal illnesses. Several on film as death passes through, spiriting them away for eternity. It was a very moving experience. I wanted to know them.

I felt I did through the camera’s lens.

For that, I am truly grateful.

The film’s trailer is on Allan King’s website. You can order your own copy of the film there as well. The website is: